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Out of the Ashes
By B.A. Nilsson

Daniel’s at Ogdens
42 Howard St., Albany, 694-5320. Serving Mon-Fri 11:30-4, dinner Mon-Fri 5-11, Sat 5-midnight. AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: All over the map
Entrée price range: $18 (wild mushroom risotto) to $35 (venison tenderloin)
Ambience: Dignified and stately

Here’s the kind of news item that frightens me: “About 44 percent of weekday meals in the U.S. are prepared in 30 minutes or less, and most consumers would like to cut that time even further, according to the U.S. Market for Ready Meals and Side Dishes, a new report by market research publisher Packaged Facts.”

Why would you want to cram your food prep into a half-hour or less? I think I know the answer: Dinner has become dull. We make the same old things for ourselves again and again, and we grab hungrily at anything new and tasty in the world of food. Two years ago, when Gabriel (“Daniel”) and Alex Atsilov were running Daniel’s Café on Washington Avenue, I was so bowled over by the falafel that I begged for the recipe and Gabriel kindly obliged.

The brothers Atsilov cook with bold flavors and inventive combinations, so it was a shame to see the café go under. But their cuisine has been reborn in an Albany landmark, the old Ogden’s building on Howard Street, a 100-year-old structure that first housed a telephone office. Designed by noted area architect Charles Ogden, it acquired his name when it debuted as a restaurant in 1977.

Current owner Ruth Wallens has spent her professional life as a freelance writer, with restaurant promotion a specialty. It was her idea to combine the talents of the Atsilovs with the handsome Ogden’s building, adding her own marketing expertise in order to overcome their previous obstacles. She bought and refurbished the building, and it now looks better than ever. Not only will you see newly painted walls and new floors and ceilings, but you’ll also find dining venues in the many different rooms that previously were left unused—as well as a patio that will become a dining venue during warm weather.

You may need to redefine your concept of a power lunch if that’s your noontime plan at Daniel’s, because the menu may be more interesting than the company you’re with. There’s a chicken soup ($4, available for lunch and dinner) that’s as good a brew as you’re likely to find, its excellence a product of its simplicity. Ten salad items range from an $8 falafel and hummus plate to duck confit over seasonal greens ($11), and mix Middle Eastern (grilled chicken tabouleh, $9) with Italian (mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto, $9) and Greek (kalamata olives and feta cheese over romaine, $8, also available with salmon or chicken for a buck or two more). Many of these are part of the dinner menu as well.

That falafel is the best you’ll find, and it’s accompanied by pita bread and a spicy olive oil as well as the hummus. You can also get it as part of the Israeli platter for two for lunch ($14) or dinner ($17), a worthy holdover from the Washington Avenue days that also includes baba ganoush (an eggplant mash), tabouleh and Moroccan-style carrots (a nicely spiced julienne).

Panini sandwiches are generous enough for two, averaging $8. We sampled the mix of grilled portobellos, goat cheese and pesto, which combined more deftly than I would have expected. For your hot lunch ($10-$12), lobster ravioli, sliced filet mignon with gorgonzola and risotto Milanese are among the entrées, along with kabobs, cous cous, and an excellent plate of shwarma ($9) that seasons the meat (chicken, when I visited) with an aromatic blend of (I’m guessing here) nutmeg, cardamon, cloves, cinnamon, garlic and pepper and serves it with a yogurt sauce alongside rice and vegetables.

Putting a tangy pomegranate sauce over grilled mahi-mahi is what this cuisine is all about. As a lunch special ($13), it was terrific, the sauce mixing nicely with the accompanying rice.

Even on Metroland’s dime, I wasn’t about to bring myself to order the Kobe beef special ($75), but isn’t it nice to know it’s there? I had the triple scallopini ($28), which is termed a signature dish, a combo of sliced chicken, veal and beef tenderloin in a rich sauce that tended to obscure rather than complement the components.

Although meat and seafood dishes dominate the dinner entrées, you’ll find plenty of unusual preparations of familiar ingredients as well as a few vegetarian items. Sea bass, for instance, is served with a saffron lemon cream sauce ($22), veal is stuffed with spinach and served with chanterelles ($28) and there’s a wild-sounding combo of Brazilian-style lamb stuffed with filet mignon ($32)!

We started with a shiitake strudel ($10), a terrific melding of phyllo pastry with mushrooms and blue cheese, along with a bowl of chicken soup. On the entrée side, we sampled the chicken kabobs ($15), two skewers of marinated meat served over rice with a side of sautéed winter vegetables, all of it cooked just right and boasting complex flavors, and the grilled quail ($24), which is flavored with such a rich marinade that it needs no sauce. You’re served two of the diminutive birds, and again rice and veggies are the sides.

Two of the homemade desserts ($8 each) contrasted mousse-making techniques: the mango-raspberry mixture was gelatin-based; the dark, dark chocolate was more buttery.

Service couldn’t have been more amiable, with young, brisk attendants taking orders and conveying trays, but the dining room was server-free for long stretches of time. The only excuse for not having a captain-waiter system is that the Capital Region remains defiantly ignorant of how professional restaurant service works. It’s time to change that.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Given my druthers, I’d be escaping the cold by touring the Napa Valley—but you can enjoy a brief, vicarious escape when chef Daniel E. Smith pairs his excellent cuisine with wines of the Napa Valley at Nicole’s Bistro at the Quackenbush House (Clinton & Broadway, Albany) beginning at 6:15 PM, Thu, March 4. Start with a sparkling Chandon Blancs de Noir while sampling hors d’oeuvres, then enjoy a yellowfin tuna tartare with a Sterling Vineyards North Coast Sauvignon Blanc, tournedos of Colorado buffalo with a Beaulieu Vineyards Napa Zinfandel and much more—all for $65 per person. For reservations, call 465-1111. . . . The Hudson Valley Council of Girl Scouts holds its 16th annual Trefoil Awards Gala at the Desmond from 7 PM-midnight Fri, March 12. The event includes a seafood presentation, delicious hors d’oeuvres and an elaborate buffet. GSHVC will be honoring Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, President of RPI, with the Trefoil Award and Carmine’s Restaurant with the Ruth W. Witte Corporate Trefoil Award. And Desmond executive chef Michael St. John will create a troop of desserts for the event using Girl Scout Cookies including: Trefoilmisu (a tiramisu using Trefoil shortbread cookies), Double Dutch Bread Pudding (using the new Double Dutch double chocolate cookies), Do Si Do Cheesecake (using the peanut butter sandwich cookies) and Lemon Cooler Parfait (using the new low-fat Lemon Cooler cookies). Tickets are $75 per person. Call Sharon Smith at 489-8110 ext.105 for more information. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com).

—B.A. Nilsson

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

We want your feedback

Have you eaten at Daniel’s at Ogdens, or other recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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Actually one of the things I usually like about B.A.'s reviews, that was missing here, is that he often brings his family, specially his child to these meals and includes their dining experiences in his columns. As a parent who is always looking fo kid-friendly places that also serve good food that I'd want to eat, so I especially enjoy "his take" on what his daughter orders and how she likes it too, as well as the entire dining experience...

Margo Matzdorf
East Greenbush

I have never been to Ogdens but look forward to the dining experience. B.A.,,your review leaves me anticipating a delicious dining experience. Thank you for the suggestion, it is fun to try new things and I will let you know how I liked it,although, as usual, I am sure you are right on the mark.

Mary Pezdek

It's me again B.A. The Chain Restaurant loving fat guy who loves big, heaping helpings of prepared, marketed fried things. Even Chicken Fingers.

I could care less about Daniel's at Ogdens to be perfectly honest. I read the review mostly because my office stares right at it's front door and we all watched as the refurbishing was done. My problem here today is with your first two paragraphs.

The kind of news article that bugs you is what percentage of Americans spend 30 minutes or less preparing food!?!? You know what kind of news article bothers me? "Remains of a woman found stuffed in a barrel......" or "....Albany Police Lt. dies from injuries sustained in shootout with suspect." I realize food and it's service and preparation may be the all consuming obsession in your life, but please tell me you have a bigger heart than that.

Maybe the reason "44 percent of weekday meals in the U.S. are prepared in 30 minutes or less.." is that some people work 2 or 3 jobs. Some people may be a single parent with young children, who may only have less than 30 minutes to spare.

But I promise you this, the next time I get 35 minutes or so.........I'll order some Kobe Beef, puff pastry, shitake mushrooms and the ingredients to make a proper buerre blanc....dim the lights, put on a bowtie, apron and plenty of snotty attitude and invite you over for dinner.

Are Chicken Fingers ok for an appetizer?

Mark Eriole
East Greenbush



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